Fate Tells the Story 

We would like to think that we are in charge of our lives.  Then unexpected events occur.

The first winter I was in a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin,  I signed up for a ski weekend and my life path was changed forever.   Since I was five years old, my father had taken our family skiing each winter.  We had experienced sub-zero temperature, high winds, sleet, hale, sprained ankles, etc. and loved It all.

Now, I was on a double-black diamond slope in northern Wisconsin (very steep) on my own for the very first time.   I had on a bright orange ski outfit.  Confidence was my best friend.  The sky was the limit.

Leaning out over the precipice, I took off.  I schussed down the first few hundred feet and then lifted my body, changing the direction of my skis as I went.  I continued with frequent turns all the way down the slope.  The wind and powder snow hit me in the face.  The snow sparkled from the sun shining down from the blue sky.

Standing at the bottom to get my breath back, I looked up the slope and saw a tall blue figure making frequent turns rhythmically down the slope.  He schussed to a stop, spraying me with snow.

John introduced himself and asked me if I would like to have a drink with him in the bar that was close to the run.  I agreed and we met in the bar for a Hot Toddy.  The rest of the holiday went by in a blur.  John had a strong British accent and told me he was from Southern Rhodesia, Central Africa.    He had grown up making regular trips to Davos, Switzerland, a mecca for serious skiers from all over the world.

We married that summer.  While John was completing an MBA at Indiana University, I completed my BA.  We settled in Brooklyn Heights, NYC and started a family.  A delightful 8-pound baby girl.    We had no sooner made friends and became comfortable with life in the city when a deep recession settled over the country.

John was working for an international finance company and knew that his role would be made redundant.  John’s father, Charles, encouraged us to emigrate to Southern Rhodesia.  Our daughter, Karen, was two years old when we packed our worldly goods into a crate that was 6 feet sq.  We were excited about the new adventure into an unknown world.

Within a month of reaching what is now called Zimbabwe, we had purchased a home on 5 acres, surrounded by tall gum trees and Natal Mahoganies, a broad tree with large shiny leaves.

John was swept up in the excitement of running a stone quarry next to his father’s chrome mine. John was in his element and worked long hours.

His leisure time was spent at his parents’ home, a 40-acre estate carefully landscaped, complete with orchard, veggie garden, manicured lawns, swimming pool and a squash court.  John and his brother, Colin, played squash every evening and on weekends.  They had both attended boarding school since the age of 7.

They were both highly skilled in ball games including rugby, soccer and squash.  Not having a date with a girl until college, John was shy when he was not on a ski slope.

I had recently completed a Masters’ degree in the United States and looked forward to obtaining a position in the local elementary schools teaching middle-age children, ages 8-13 the local schools.

I was shocked when I was told that my application was unsuccessful.  They explained the circumstances by saying that they had based the decision on the fact that I had an American accent.  They wanted their students to grow up speaking the ‘Kings’ English!’  I was mortified and angry.

Six weeks later, I was told by my G.P. that I was 6 weeks pregnant.  For the next 6 weeks I wrestled with nausea, anxiety and depression.  At the 3-month mark, I experienced abdominal cramps.  My GP told me that I was in labor and that that the fetus would not survive.  He suggested that I talk to his wife, Virginia, a nurse, for counselling.

When Ginny learned the circumstances I was in, and how sad and depressed I was, she encouraged me to separate from John.    After careful consideration, I filed for divorce.  In these Colonial circumstances, I waited only 17 days before my case was heard in front of a judge.  I was granted the divorce.

Financial settlements in the United Kingdom favored the male in the divorce process.  I was granted $50 a month in alimony and $100 in child support.   Blinded by this in- just settlement, I made plans for Karen (4 years old) and I to move to South Africa where I could find professional employment.

I never regretted my decision.  Karen and I drove the 1000 miles to South Africa in a bright yellow Toyota where we created a new life structure, built a successful career and became a Registered Clinical Psychologist after three years of study and an internship in a State Mental Hospital.

Karen spent several weeks with her grandparents in Zimbabwe every school holiday.  During that time, I reached out and joined a back-packing club that took regular trips to the Drakensburg Mountains where there were 8 peaks over 4000’ high.

Karen and I thrived in Johannesburg and subsequently I met Oliver, a high energy backpacker.  A year later, we married.  Our son, Jason, was born the following year.  I had gone through a life cycle.  I had lost and I had gained.  The experience was well worth the pain.

The political and economic position in South Africa continued to deteriorate.  The inevitable transition from a white government to a black government met resistance from the entrenched Afrikaanse government.     It looked as though law and order would give way to extreme violence and a chaotic economy.  The South African government set a brutal financial exchange rate.  The exchange rate of South African Rand to the US American Dollar dropped to an unheard of SA Rand .17 cents to a one US Dollar.  For every SA Rand you exchanged for an American dollar, you received only Rand .17 cents.  It was a punitive government measure to discourage emigration.

In 1986 we emigrated to Southern California due to the breakdown of law and order in South Africa.  Our next door neighbor had been brutally murdered in front of her seven-year old twins.

Unfortunately, Oliver, Jason’s dad, a South African by birth, was not successful in making the transition to Los Angeles, CA.    Announcing to me that he could not afford to pay me any alimony or child support at that time, he returned to South Africa.  As his circumstances improved, he was able to contribute to Jason’s university education.

I had a position in Human Resources for a major bank during the day.  Two nights a week, I traveled up to an hour to a university campus where I taught adult  MBA students for 4 hours.

Without a break in employment, I rented a small house in the San Fernando Valley for Jason and me.  He was happy at his new elementary school, Welby Way, with his new teachers, Mr. and Mrs. McBride.

Karen remained in South Africa to finish high school in boarding school   She and I worked together to research universities in CA that would be suitable for someone with her objectives.   She was accepted at UCSD and after a brief summer at home we drove her down to San Diego.  She finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in 3.5 years.  She then took a 7-week walk-about in New Zealand.  When she returned she stated that she did not fit the American profile and would be moving to England where she felt far more at home.  Having lived in a dorm for 5 years, she adapted quickly to dormitory life.  She was a high energy, outgoing young woman and made an excellent transition.

We had accomplished a complex transition with a high level of adversity and personal loss.  I don’t know whether the willingness to take significant risks, leave financial security, and start a life in a setting that is unfamiliar to you where you have no friends, comes from one’s genetic makeup or temperament.  I had the drive not to remain in a country that had a high risk of giving way to chaos. I wanted my children to experience growing up and being educated in a culture that was dedicated to law and order. Perhaps a combination of those characteristics.

My children have been high on the ‘Adventure Scale’ as well.  Jason spent two summers as a Mountain Guide on Mt Rainier in the State of WA.  Last Sunday, he called me on the way home from a day skiing on fresh snow.  He and Tony, his friend, had had a great day in the Back Country, forming new trails on Rainier in unpacked snow.

Jason’s four-year-old daughter, Dani, has her own skis.  She has experienced riding up ski lifts with her parents and feels the exhilaration of ‘taking off’ unassisted.

We have all enjoyed our immediate family’s willingness to break out and experience the world, to build skill sets to deal with adversity.  We have met others who are happy to reach out to new adventures. We have developed strong problem-solving skills.  What can you lose?

Sally Kilbourne 
Shoreline Toastmasters  










A Little Birdie Told Me So

When does something have a special meaning?

Yesterday, I had been on the phone with a Visa representative about the fact that my Visa card had been turned down for the first time in six years.  I was irate but worked at being  composed so I would have her cooperation.  After 20 minutes of trouble-shooting, I noticed a sparrow sitting on the doorstep to my patio (I live on the 12th floor in Downtown Long Beach). 

I said to the Visa Rep, ‘There’s a bird on my doorstep!’ I started laughing and she also started laughing.  I said to her, ‘I don’t want our call to drop out!’  As we continued our trouble-shooting, I observed the bird crossing the doorstep and casually marching across the living room and after a right-turn, marched into the bathroom.  I stopped thinking about the bird and concentrated on finding the problem with my Visa card.  Fortunately, it was the fault was with Visa and not me.

After I put the phone down, I stepped carefully through the bathroom and into the bedroom.   There I saw the bird, perched on the window sill, drawn to the bright light shining through the window.  The windows are almost up to the ceiling but do not open.  I talked to ‘her’ and shared with her that I would help her get back outside.

How?  I thought, ‘What I need is a large fish net.’  Hmmm.  I didn’t have a big fishnet. Hmmm, I could ask the Maintenance Management in my building.  No, I thought, I can manage this myself.   I then thought up the next idea.  I went to the bathroom cupboard and pulled out an old towel.  I moved into the bathroom, speaking in a gentle, melodic, voice. 

As I approached the bird, I threw the towel over it.  The bird shrieked and shrieked!  I then had to get the courage to grab the bird with both hands and carry it out to the patio.  I caught the bird, still shrieking, and realized it was 100% muscle with a few feathers.  I struggled to hold onto it, talking to it the whole way through the living room and out onto the patio.  It took all the strength I had and courage.

On the way through the living I heard this great cracking beneath my feet.  I thought it was all the CDs on the floor that I was in the mist of sorting.  

Stepping onto the patio, I moved over to the railing and released the bird.   It flew off immediately and never even turned around to say good-by!  I was thrilled that we had such a success.

Later in the day I received an email from my best childhood friend’s husband, in St Charles, MI. I burst into tears as I read it.  My girlfriend, Alex, had died he said.  Alex and I were chums all through our high school years.  We had stayed in touch since we were thirteen years old and running around the lake we both lived on in the summers  I had stayed in touch with her over 50 years but had never visited with her face-to-face. 

She had suffered from heart disease for a number of years.  A month ago, she and I had a conservation just before she was going to the hospital for a 2nd heart surgery.   Four hours after she had entered the hospital for surgery, she had a massive heart attack.  For four days the heart specialist and others on the team worked furiously to save her.  According to George, her husband, her body just could not stand anymore and she died. 

Although I am very, very sad, when we had spoken the previous week, she had told me that if the surgery did not improve her condition, she did not want to live.   She shared with me that she couldn’t stand the suffering any longer.

When I saw the bird at my doorstep, the morning after I had spoken to George, I wondered if it was a message from Alex.  The message was, ‘You don’t need to worry about me anymore, I am safe and out of pain.’  The bird had no difficulty in soaring into the air and disappearing in moments.  I felt up-lifted by this message for the rest of the day.

What Makes a ‘Super Sal’ Sunday?

Yesterday I was informed by email that my oldest sister, Karen, had been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance in Bayfield WI, unconscious following a seizure. Last summer she had spent a long time in a regional hospital and was diagnosed with Epilepsy. This time her diagnosis was Alzheimer’s Disease. The chips are down.

Shaken, I spent the rest of the day quietly at home, exploring memories of Karen and I growing up together. She has been my ‘Nee-Nee’, an older sister, six years older than me. I adored her. I can remember the navy blue wool coat that she wore for the seven months of winter. I named my own daughter, Karen, after my sister.

We grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago with tree-lined streets and back yards. Our home was a modest, double-story, red-brick structure. There were four children in our family. One of our favorite activities was sliding down the mahogany banister, landing in a ‘puddle’ of laughter at the bottom of the stairs.

Karen would take me on the ‘Rock-Island Line’, a city train-line that would take us to the Morgan Park Regional Library, half-an-hour away. We would return home, hugging our book bags, to spend the second-half of the afternoon, laying on the radiator in the living room, reading. I can remember vividly how much I adored her.

This morning I awoke and I felt tears welling up. Feelings of love for my sister washed over me. I felt alone and distressed about this turn of events in Karen’s health.

Asking myself the question, ‘How do I want to spend today?’ I decided to go ‘out’. I wasn’t quite sure where. My condo is on the 12th floor of a 21-story high-rise building on Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach CA. I grabbed my backpack and computer and closed the door behind me. Standing at the elevator, the doors opened and I was greeted by seven giggly children of various ages, two strollers with sleeping babies, and two Latino mothers. I greeted them and asked, ‘Where are you going?’

Smiling, they squeaked and shouted all at once, ‘We’re going to see, ‘Touch a Truck’, they shouted. I was fascinated. It sounded like a new flavor of smoothie. I asked, ‘What is ‘Touch a Truck’? The mother closest to me, in a gay print ankle-length skirt, responded, ‘It’s an event sponsored by the City of Long Beach. It’s on Pagoda Street, right near Rosie’s Dog Beach at the Ocean. The children can see and touch all the big trucks the City owns. They can jump all over and ‘ride’ behind the steering wheels.

That was enough of a lead for me. I LOVE a party! I drove to Belmont Shores and found a place to park near the Outdoor Olympic Swimming Pool. I slid my little red Mazda in between two SUVs, one black, one silver. The silver one had a dented rear end and a bumper that was askew, hanging by wire.

I stood on my toes and fed 6 quarters into the last meter in town that required coins. I studied the ‘human traffic’ and made my way in the direction of where the noise was coming from. The first thing I spied was a long green truck saying, ‘Conserve our City’ in bold black letters. Rising up from the back of the truck was a 100-foot ladder with a basket on top. Inside the basket there was an operator, a father and two small children. The girl had a long braid hanging down her back and a yellow sun bonnet on. The boy had a red t-shirt with ‘TOUCH A TRUCK’ emblazoned on the back.

Both children were waving small American flags on sticks. They were looking out at the beach where bright kites were being flown by hardy kite flyers skimming on top of the waves, somehow avoiding each other. The wind was moderate, the surf mild. The multi-colored kites, the multi-colored trucks and the cobalt blue sky with no clouds made a scene for any French painter with an eye for the picturesque. People of all size and description were enjoying themselves on Cinco de Mayo day.

Walking forward, I spun to the left, just avoiding a double stroller with twin boys sitting next to each other. Identical in looks, with red-and-white striped t-shirts on that complimented their curly black hair, both toddlers wore goggle-like sun-glasses, over-shadowed by wide-brimmed red hats.

Standing on my tip-toes, I saw multi-colored, huge trucks of all sizes, as far as I could see. The City of Long Beach had literally ‘Gone to Town’ over this event for its younger citizens.

There were so many parents and small children about that it was impossible to take a snap-shot of an entire vehicle. Pedestrians came from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Moms and dads of different cultural backgrounds mingled, holding the hands of their children and trying to guide strollers at the same time. A bit of a juggling act with varying levels of success.

All of a sudden, I was bowled over by the enormous Long Beach red fire truck on my left. Both front doors were wide-open. There was a four-year-old boy with red hair in the driver’s seat, going to town turning the wheel back and forth in his chubby hands. I snapped a shot of him in the fiery-red cab of the truck.

I walked around to the other side of the cab and approached a large gentleman with a dark blue shirt on with a badge on the sleeve. His arms were folded across his chest. He wore an amicable smile on his face. I asked him, ‘May I ask you a question?’ ‘With pleasure, we can talk as long as you want.’ He grinned and I fell under his spell. He shared with me that he was a Sargent of the Fire Department and would be pleased to answer my questions.

For the next 10 minutes he and I engaged in a spirited dialogue. I asked the questions and he responded. I shared with him that I lived on the 12th floor in Aqua Towers, a high rise on Ocean Boulevard, the main street in Long Beach.

‘I enjoy hearing the fire engines, ambulances and police cars day and night’ I said, ‘In the middle of the night I jump up and watch from the window each time a brigade goes by’, I share, ‘After they pass, I slip back under the covers and dream of fire engines where I’m the driver!’.

Back to the Sargent. He shared that he was concerned that the City had cut Public Service budgets and that two fire stations had been closed in downtown Long Beach. ‘As a result of this’, he shared, ‘Citizens living in high rise buildings downtown are at risk if there is a major ‘event’ such as a fire or earthquake.

He then explained that he weighed 380 lbs. A good-looking 380 lbs, I might add. ‘When I in my gear all rigged up’, he said, ‘I weigh in at 430 lbs. ‘Each team has four team members. Two for breaking the doors down, one a medical officer and finally, the Captain, giving the orders.

‘When we enter a multiple story building and start climbing those stairs, it takes us four minutes to get up each flight. We stay together at all times. What floor do you live on?’

‘Twelfth’, I responded.

‘I recommend that you are always ready to take action and take responsibility for yourself.’ He continued.

I stepped back and said, ‘Thanks, that was very enlightening. I will definitely ‘step up to the plate’ and take responsibility for myself.’

After I left the fire engines, Sargent Bruce and all the glistening trucks behind, I traveled to Barnes and Noble and found a book titled, ‘Disaster Preparedness’. It was on sale for $7. I whipped it up before anyone else could beat me to it. It now shares my book shelf of ‘Important to Read’ books, alongside a book called, ‘Slipping Between the Shadows’. The cover of the ‘Shadows’ book is a smoky gray, with a cloak-covered female figure in black, reaching their arms to the sky. The subtitle says, ‘This well-known author focuses on her own experiences of stepping into a spiritual world where she reunites with her loved ones who are no longer with us’. She urges her readers to reach beyond the day-to-day motions they go through. ‘I promise you’ she writes, ‘We are never truly alone.’

I feel like I’m fully recovered now. I drive to the nearest Starbucks, put my Lenovo PC down on the table I always sit at next to the windows. I nod to my ‘friends’. We are used to sharing the space, each in our own worlds. I put my earphones in, turn on Pandora and listen to the guitarist play Manuel de Falla’s Concerto de Aranjuez. Music of the sublime.

Life, however, is not that simple. Two days ago on May 3rd, 2016, the Long Beach Annual Police and Fire Memorial Ceremony took place. This annual tribute takes place to honor those who have given their lives for the community.

The ceremony began with attendees, including City officials, repeating the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. This was followed by their singing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’. A bagpipe performance of ‘Amazing Grace’ then filled the air. Finally, there was a 21-gun salute. Total silence followed the salute. There was not a dry eye amongst us.

I am a ‘Cosmopolitan Kid’. Wikipedia defines the word, ‘Cosmopolitan’ as a ‘City or person that embraces its multi-cultured demographics’. I was born in St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago IL, a multi-cultured city in the ‘50s. I grew up in Beverly Hills, a middle-class neighborhood. We lived at 9437 S. Pleasant Avenue. We attended public schools. We lived 3 blocks from the Fire Station. We would pass the station, officers sitting in the sun outside the Station, on a nice day.

I have enjoyed the ‘comings and goings’ of city-life around the world. I’ve found my feet, living, raising children and working in six countries on four continents on both sides of the Equator. In cities around the world there is always something happening, be it ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

You just need to love the fire-engines roaring by at all hours of the night.

Sally Kilbourne
Long Beach CA 5/5/16

City of Durban – Respite from a Storm

Yesterday I had lunch with friends who had just returned from a 3-week cruise to Mexico. As they reveled in their memories of sun-bathing, watching movies and enjoying the ‘savoir-faire’ (sophistication) of the setting.

It brought to mind a cruise my 1st husband, John, and I took early in our marriage.

John and I met each other on a ski slope in N. Wisconsin. We were both attending a small, Midwestern college. John was from Southern Rhodesia in Central Africa. He was 6’3” and a superior skier. He glided down the steep slopes as though he were a gazelle making his way through the tundra. John had learned to ski with the assistance of Swiss guides. He and his family spent a month skiing in Davos, Switzerland throughout his early years. He was a natural. We fell head over heels in love with one another and were married during the summer break.

John and I were invited to visit John’s family in what was then Southern Rhodesia in Central Africa shortly after we were married in 1963.

It was a turbulent time in Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. The Universal Declaration of Independence was declared against Britain and Ian Smith was now Prime Minister. It was understood that there would be Black rule. It was not clear how that Black rule would take place, peacefully or otherwise.

Throughout our visit to Zimbabwe, we visited Wankie Game Park, where all the largest elephants and other big game resided. We visited the trout streams of Inyanga, up in the Eastern Highlands. The skies were vast and the sky an intense blue. As the sun set, the sky filled with bright stars. You could see the Milky Way.

John’s mother had accompanied me while we were visiting them in Harari to choose clothing suitable to wear in the evenings. Dinners were formal. I recall one emerald green dress that was perfect for the occasion. John’s father owned and operated mines and quarries in Zimbabwe. While we were still in the USA, John’s dad wrote that they had discovered a cache of emeralds. In honor of my sister-in-law, Diana’s, and my 21st birthday he was having a piece of jewelry made for each of us. Mine was a necklace. The 1.25 carat emerald was set into a broach with 13 diamonds surrounding it. The dress was a perfect match for the necklace.

After spending a month with his family, John and I travelled to the Natal Coast of South Africa. There we boarded a large passenger ship named the City of Durban, one of the four ships that were each named after one of South Africa’s largest Coastal cities. In those days, people had more leisure time and much preferred the First Class ship that travelled to the UK as opposed to multiple hops in an airplane that landed every night. There were no overnight flights in those days.

That time we were the ones who were wined and dined and lived like a prince and princess.

My primary activity during the cruise was reading. I read Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace cover-to- cover in 9 days. It was over 950 pages. I spent hours in my favorite deck chair, brightly upholstered. It was mesmerizing.

We swam, played shuffle-board with other passengers as well as bridge. The catering was superior so we all put on weight. Relaxation was the key theme.

There was one flaw in my universe. My mother had been seriously ill when we left the USA. She had suffered a major breast mastectomy the previous year. My father, a surgeon, had ensured she had the best possible care. She had been seriously impacted by this illness and was deeply depressed. The cancer had returned.

To my memory, no one in my family thought we should cancel our trip to Southern Africa. It did not stop me from suffering, however. Once we left my in-laws’ home to travel south through South Africa, I felt isolated and very lonely. My husband’s world focused on Wall Street, investments and racket games. Having grown up attending boarding schools from the age of six, he had little opportunity to develop the skills to support me emotionally.

An overseas cable reached me one morning with news of my mother’s death. I was devastated and burst into tears. I sought out a private place to cry. I climbed the steps to the top deck, letting the tears stream down my face.
Looking out to sea, there was no land in sight. I felt homeless and uncontrollably sad.

I felt a shadow on my left side. As I turned towards it, a large form was revealed in a white uniform with a peaked cap. The man had a mustache and leaned down to ask me what was troubling me. I replied, ‘I just learned that my mother has died. I am very sad’.

The Captain placed his hand around my shoulder and responded, ‘Come with me.’
He led me up some steep steps and onto the bridge. We approached the large wheel that the captain used to steer the ship. He asked me to ‘take the helm’. I stepped to the wheel tentatively and took hold of each side of it. I was scared to death! It allowed me to focus on the present. As I turned around, I could see the wake of the boat swerving back and forth.

The Captain’s tender approach and guidance had enabled me to gain emotional ground. I looked up to him with a small smile on my face. I was grateful for his warmth and attention.

I made my way back to John’s and my cabin and slithered beneath my blanket. I entered into a deep state of sleep. The healing process had begun.

Resort Homes – An Opportunity You Can’t Turn Down

 My sister, Karen, and her family live in the North Woods of WI.  Once the children were out of school, they hit the road and the whole tribe took off for a rustic lifestyle amongst the wonders of nature.   My sister sent me a picture yesterday of the front patio on May 7th.   ‘Don’t put the shovels away yet!’ It says.

Karen and her husband live on the shore of Lake Superior, the largest of the 5 Great Lakes of North America.  It is 1,223 feet in places.  If the lake was spread out, it would cover the land mass of all North and South America.

Choosing to live in northern WI, you know that weather conditions will play a major role in your life.  Dressing for the season is critical to survival, particular in the seven-month winter when temperatures drop to -30 degrees and 35 feet of snow fall, often in blizzards that over the  course of the winter.  In the summer, electrical storms come up with great ferocity.  High winds and torrential downpours seem to come out of nowhere.

Why would anyone choose to live in a climate such as this where making a blunder can cost you your life?  Why am I encouraging you to buy a property in Bayfield WI?  First and foremost, they are reasonably priced.  The most costly part of the whole exercise is the heating bills.   The summers hold a special attraction.  A deer walking across your path is a common occurrence.  Birds sing, rust-colored foxes play their games.  Even the snakes enjoy basking in the summer sun.

If you’re a fisherman or fisherwoman, Lake Superior provides a plethora of fish to catch, including Walleye Pike, Lake Trout, Herring, King Salmon and Halibut.   Bring a large net, these guys are big.

Why pick-up sticks and depart from our sunny climate with a multitude of pristine beaches and the challenge of surfing those big breakers?

Sitting in your favorite Starbucks, you may find that more and more of the conversation focuses on the stress and craziness in So CA.  One of my colleagues bragged to me last week about the Statistics indicate that divorce rates to say the least as well as medical costs are on a steep incline.   Children with learning problems, long-term unemployment and being in a State that takes no prisoners with its taxation all contribute to long-term stress.

How can we take charge of our lives and modify these trends?  While living in South Africa, I studied the effects of stress and saw that, with the sociopolitical stresses of the 80s, including violence, social unrest and an uncertain future, South Africans reported an increasing number of health-related incidents.  The emigration rate crept up every year resulting in a brain drain.   Valuable citizens departed to more settled parts of the world such as the UK, Australia and the USA.  Young people, especially, sought refuge in overseas universities.

As an Organization Psychologist at the time, I researched the subject.   I discovered studies done by two Psycholgists at the University of Chicago.  Salvatore Maddi and Susanne Kobasa studied stress in executives.  They found in their research that there were major distinctions between those executives in the way they approached the ‘rough and tumble’ of their business settings.    They found that all the individuals reported encountering challenging, even life-threatening situations or circumstances of extreme adversity.  There were, however,  distinct differences in how these individuals dealt with the challenges they encountered.

Can you describe a time when you felt beaten and bruised by life and that you did not want to ‘play this game any longer’?    The researchers found that a significant number of those studied capitulated to challenges or stresses.  They may have quit their jobs, left their marriages or in some way or another manifested that things were not going well.  Often, there were significant health problems during an elongated period of stress.

On the other hand, there were others in the study that demonstrated a high level of commitment when resolving a difficult situation.  They took control of the situation to the degree possible.  Most importantly, they perceived the demanding situation as one that was a challenge rather than a disaster.  Throughout these studies over many years and in many countries, these ‘Hardy Personalities’ were more likely not to allow circumstances to overwhelm them.   More frequently than the control group, they reported winning their battles.  Most importantly, the results showed that those exhibiting ‘Hardiness’ i.e. seeing change as an opportunity, making a solid effort to problem-solve in the situation and  committing to whatever it took to work through the situation.  When examining their results, Kobasa and Maddi found that those who demonstrated ‘Hardy’ characteristics also showed higher levels of emotional and physical levels of health.

What does this research have to do with living in the North Woods of Northern Wisconsin?  Those individuals who have had a choice and chosen to gravitate to this geographical area, have demonstrated in their choice, a willingness to take on major challenges, either with the weather, the ability to earn a living and to raise healthy families in such a setting demonstrate more frequently the characteristics of what the University of Chicago researchers call, The Hardy Personality.

These individuals are less likely to succumb to challenges.   Those studied in the North Woods were found to have demonstrated a  higher level of commitment dealing to finding a way to make a living, have families, and to learn and to grow from experiences.  They are also dedicated to finding ways to interface with their demanding and colorful environment.

As I show you a variety of real estate properties that come, for Californians, at fire-sale prices, make a note of those that you would like more information on.  We can then set up one-on-one meetings to learn more about purchasing a property and relocating to this world of natural wonders.

Toastmasters Speech No 9  May 8, 2013

South Africa – A Complex Tale

My son, his wife, their 10-month old daughter and her parents leave Washington on Saturday for South Africa for a month.  They will visit my son’s father and family in the ‘bundu’ (otherwise known as ‘the bush’), 2 hours outside Johannesburg in the rugged Magaliesburg  Mountains.   Personal safety continues to be an ever-present issue throughout South Africa.

South Africa is a complex part of the world which has undergone continuous change for centuries.

In 1970 my husband, a native Rhodesian, our two-year-old daughter and I immigrated from NYC to Salisbury, Rhodesia, a British colony at that time.

Although I had a Master of Arts and Teaching degree, the educators in Salisbury, the capital city, turned down my application to teach saying that I didn’t speak the English language.  There were close to no professional women in Rhodesia at that time, other than teachers and nurses.

Women were supposed to be content at home.  I wasn’t.  My three-year-old daughter and I drove 1000 miles to Johannesburg, South Africa in 1972 to seek our fortune in a larger setting with more opportunity.   I was successful finding a position as a trainer for a large retail firm.  First foot in the door.

My impressions of Johannesburg (population 1 million) were positive.  It has a mild climate for 10 months of the year with about a 40 inch rainfall.  My daughter and I swam every day during the warm months.

I joined the Johannesburg Hiking Club and we enjoyed extended hiking trips in the Drakensburg Mountains which rise to 11, 400 ft.  The steep slopes are the highest in Southern Africa.  Through the Hiking Club, I formed friendships.   I sang in the 80 member, Johannesburg Chorale Society.  In conjunction with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra we sang major chorale works which deepened my love of music and singing.  I enjoyed it a great deal and made friends there as well.

Initially, I found employment at a national retail chain.  A year after our arrival, I was hired by ICI Pty Ltd., a global chemicals and engineering company.  I was a team member conducting 5-day residential management development courses in a huge old wood-paneled mansion poised on a cliff overlooking Johannesburg.  I am friends to this day with my boss, a Scotsman by the name of Calvin Mackay.

In time, I remarried and in 1979 my husband and I had a son.  My daughter, Karen, was then eleven.  There were enormous tensions in the country.  The Afrikaans government in power was not open to a multi-racial power base.  Because of the on-going turmoil in the country, including a 25% unemployment rate,  the economy was in flux.  We did not feel safe or secure.  Emigration figures continued to rise as the tensions grew.  Families were split as some left and others stayed.  The government penalized the monetary exchange rate for those leaving the country.  They reduced it from what had been equity with the American dollar for each Rand, to $.17 cents for every Rand.  You had to be willing to take a severe financial hit if you chose to leave.

Business and personal conversations focused upon what would happen, how it would happen and when it would happen.  Crime was at an all-time high.  At that time, the government was one of Apartheid.   An official policy of racial segregation practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against Nonwhites.

At that point, the likelihood of a bloody revolution appeared to be high.  It was a dangerous place to live with a highly stressful environment and an unstable economy, government and divided society.

Amidst this turmoil, our 29-year old neighbor was brutally stabbed to death, leaving a husband and two 7-year old twins.  That was the final straw.  My husband and I decided to emigrate in 1986.  My daughter, now seventeen and in her final 18 months of boarding school, chose to remain to finish her schooling and retain her friendships.  We accepted the physical risk she was at.

At the time we made the decision to leave, I had a successful Executive Coaching and Business Psychology practice.  I was coaching the top leadership team of Barclays Bank Limited.  The executive team had suffered nine heart attacks in one year, contributed to by personal and business strains.

My husband and I closed our businesses, sold our home, said good-bye to family and friends and left.  It was a traumatic experience for those who stayed and for those who left.  We settled in Los Angeles, CA, where my husband had located employment.   The difference in cultures and life-styles could not have been farther apart.  (3 min)

The marriage could not sustain the strain of the transition.  Oliver and I were divorced in 1987 and Oliver returned to South Africa shortly thereafter and re-opened his former business.    Jason, now 8 years old, suffered at the loss of his father.  I was under an even a greater economic strain than I had been under before.

Description of South Africa 12/10/12

Now I will focus upon South Africa itself and why we all continue to love it so deeply.  A land of magnificent natural resources and beauty, it is accompanied by a highly complex socio-economic and political history.   The underlying history is one of inequity between the minority White population and the majority Black population (80%).    The Dutch, also known as the Boers, claimed ownership of the large agricultural province, the Orange Free State.  The British claimed ownership of the Cape and the Transvaal Provinces.  The Natal Province, on the Indian Ocean, was also a ‘White’ (English-speaking) province.

South Africa is at the southern-most tip of Africa between the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans.   It has over 1500 miles of Coastline.

According to the World Bank, the South African population reached an all-time high of 50.6 million in 2011.  It was at a record low of 17.4 million in 1960.   It is currently the 25th largest country in the world, 24th in population.

It is the largest economy in Africa and 7th largest in the world.   There is 25% unemployment .

It is multi-ethnic  –11 official languages.   80% of the population is Black.  There is a significant Indian population, largely located in the Province of Natal.

For many of us, when we imagine South Africa we think ‘Wildlife’.  There are large tracts of land that are designated as Natural Reserves or Game Parks.  Here elephants, lions, leopards, white rhino, wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamuses & giraffe; game reserves are but a few of the mammals that can be viewed in their own habitat.   The bird life and the reptilian world are also in abundance.  Tourism is a major industry.

Jhb in the Transvaal supports the mining industry on the Rand or Witwatersrand where there are large seams of precious and non-precious metals being mined, including platinum, uranium and gold.  The area is famous for being the source of 40% of the gold ever mined from the earth.  The Witwatersrand also has some of the largest seams of coal in the world.

Johannesburg, with a current population of 3, 2 million is characterized by its youthful residents, with 42 percent of the population under the age of 24 and 49 percent under the age of 34.   It is the economic powerhouse of South Africa.  It is home of 70% of corporate headquarters.

Rainfall: 40 inches a year; 6000 ft. in altitude –mile high and has a temperate climate for 10 months of the year.

The ‘veldt’ is a generic term used to define wide open rural spaces of Southern Africa. The Lowveld (interior) can range from lush subtropical forest and wildlife to extreme desert, where there is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world. Approximately half the population lives below the international poverty line, and the nation has suffered heavily from the effects of HIV/AIDS, with 15% of the adult population infected with HIV in 2007.

Climate – big variance:

  • Namib extreme desert
  • Mozambique –sub-tropics
  • SW –Cape Province – Table Mountain-3500 feet –most epic view of the ocean in South Africa with a 2 mile plateau with steep cliffs surrounding it. 
  • Healthy economic growth; stronger economically than other provinces
  • Vineyards –wines have international reputation

Parliamentary government

  • All ethnic and language groups have recognition in government
  • Parliament is in Cape Town
  • Head of State – President – Pretoria
  • Judiciary – Bloemfontein

The President is elected by members of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, and is usually the leader of the largest party, which has been the African National Congress since the first non-racial elections were held on 27 April 1994. The role was originally founded to be distinct from the now defunct role of prime minister, but the two roles were merged in the 1983 constitution which specified a four-year term of office. The 1993 and later constitutions limits the president’s time in office to two five-year terms.[1] The first President to be elected under the new constitution was Nelson Mandela, and the incumbent president is Jacob Zuma.

In South Africa, much economic uncertainty has been associated with the 1994 shift to black majority rule. Political instability and particularly political violence ? and fear of such in the future ?is another important determinant of migration. In South Africa, surges of political violence were marked by the 1976 Soweto uprising and the 1985 State of Emergency declared in 36 magisterial districts.  Renewed political violence was feared in the run up to the 1994 elections. Whites also fear  that race-based hiring quotas are becoming a significant obstacle to economic advancement. Since the early 1990s, there has also been a dramatic surge both in general violent crime rates, and in the proportionate exposure of the wealthier white population to violent crime.

Variation in the timing and rate of change of net emigration during the 1990s is best accounted for by changes in exposure to violent crime.

Human Rights

  •  500,000 rapes/year –average woman more likely to be raped than to finish high school.
  • The enigma of South Africa is the extremes:  without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with an overabundance of natural resources.
  • Growing population but also exodus. 

It has a turbulent early history of Apartheid (80% of the population  is Black) – and until  fairly recently unrepresented in the government.  The Dutch or Afrikaaners held strong religious  convictions that were at the foundation of the Apartheid policy.  The British Colonialists did little to influence this policy.

Nelson Mandela came into power in 1994.  Jacob Zuma came into power in 2009 elected by Parliament when his Party won the election.

For many, there is a magnetic attraction to the country.  They choose to remain come what may.  For others, the strains outweigh the positive aspects of the life.  They accept the penalties to be endured when leaving a country you love and taking the hits that occur when doing so.

There is no ‘right way’.  If you have the capacity to leave, as it is extremely expensive, you try and weigh the risks and rewards as best you can.  The outcome is an uncertain one, as it is if you stay.

South Africa is deep in my blood as well as in the blood of my family.  Following our exodus in the 80s, our family has been separated ever since.   My daughter’s children are English, my son’s daughter is American.  I have returned from eight years in Australia.  Jason’s father’s family are in South Africa.  We have all done the best we can to retain our ties.  We have all learned to live with the pain of separation.

12/12/12 Toastmasters – Project 7
Research Your Topic



A Wintry Wonderland

We don’t choose where we are born or grow up.  Sometimes we like it and stay and sometimes we don’t like it and leave.  What have you done?

My nephew, John, was born and raised in Central Wisconsin in the 1960s.  From an early age, he inherited the love of the North Woods throughout the four seasons from both his mom and his dad.   John graduated from the University of Wisconsin.   He met and married Greta, who had a Norwegian background.   After university, John and Greta purchased a piece of property in the North Woods not far from Cornucopia, a small town on the north shores of Lake Superior.  It is not far from the Apostle Islands, a wonderland for naturalists who appreciate the scenic beauty as well as the wildlife and sports activities.

Lake Superior is the largest surface area on earth.  It has 3000 cubic miles of water and is 1,332 feet deep at its deepest.  It is 350 miles from West to East and 160 m from North to South.  Lake Superior has 10% of the world’s fresh water.  Lake Superior’s water stores the heat energy of the sun so there is far more snow in the area than in other parts of the Great Lakes.  This, of course, brings winter sports enthusiasts to dog-sledding, snowboarding, snow-shoeing,  cross-country skiing , ice-skate and partying.

Early on as they were building their family, John and Greta built a home in the North Woods.  They built sleds and cut trails through the woods.  They raised and trained Siberian Huskies to pull the sleds.  They experimented running the dogs and sleds on the trails.  They stood on the rails behind the sled and yell ‘Mush’ to the dogs who would then careen down the snow and frozen paths and up the path on the other side of the frozen stream that they had just crossed.

After doing this for fun with friends and family and friends, they started a business.

They named their company Wolfsong Adventures.   http://www.wolfsongadventures.com/

Wolfsong Adventures has grown over the years through dedication, skills, and hard work.  John and Greta breed and train Siberian Huskies and now have 40 dogs.  Each dog has its own personality and is trained and then placed in the teams where they will be most effective.  The older dogs ‘coach’ the younger dogs to know how to run with the sleds.  They have a team of sled drivers they have trained as their business has grown.

John and Greta have also developed a summer business and have numerous sailboats that are moored at the docks in Cornucopia, a small tourist town  on the Northern-most shore of Lake Superior  http://cornucopiawisconsin.net/.   Clients consist of tourists of all ages and levels of skill and motivation.  Skilled sailors coach those that are interested in learning the skills of sailing.  They also have many clients who find it a total experience to enjoy the thrill of being on the water in this scenic setting.   The rapid changes in weather may change the itinerary.  Lake Superior is known for fierce storms and high waves.

Greta comes has a Norwegian background and from the beginning days of Wolfsong Adventures has designed and made clothing with a Norwegian influence, appropriate to wear while sledding.  They opened a shop several years on the corner of the main street in Cornucopia, expanding their offerings.  It’s now a tourist’s delight in any season.  They carry not only clothing but footwear, head wear, backpacks and other items appropriate to life in the North Woods.

John and Greta have two daughters who have been involved in all the activities from an early age.   John built sleds and Greta designed and made warm clothing with Norwegian trim to fit their daughters.  At school, the girls’ extra-curricular activities also have a strong emphasis on the environment.

During the two months of summer, John and his other skippers take guests out on the fleet of sailboats they have sail out of Cornucopia, to the Apostle Islands.

This winter has been a unique season in this natural wonderland.  Lake Superior, the largest inland lake in the world, has frozen over, close to 100%.  The WI Game and Fisheries Department opened the famous Ice Caves on the coast of the Apostle Islands lake to tourists on January 2nd.  Wolfsong  Adventures  extended their sledding excursions to also offer 4 hour walks to and through the ice caves .  These are constantly monitored to ensure that the ice is solid and safe for tourists and were closed in mid-March as the ice flow conditions can change rapidly.

The Bayfield Chamber of Commerce describes this breath-taking opportunity:

Lake Superior Ice Caves – a breathtaking winter adventure

“As snow and ice transform the quiet landscape, Northern Wisconsin winter has something for everyone in Bayfield. During the winter season, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers a popular attraction in the dazzling shoreline ice caves at Mawikwe Bay along the mainland.

“The winter adventure of seeing the beauty of the ice caves will take your breath away. Lakeshore cliffs along Lake Superior form crimson red borders to create an arctic landscape. Pillars of ice extend to the cliff tops where waterfalls have hardened in place. Frozen Lake Superior water encrusts the base of the cliffs. Inside the ice caves awaits a fairyland of needle like icicles. The Lake Superior ice cave formations change from chamber to chamber and from day to day.”

John’s father taught him to track game, hunt and fish when he was a young boy.  John and his family have built their lives living in the North Woods.  It is great fun to visit them and catch up with what they have accomplished recently.  Bayfield and the surrounding area is a community of like-minded people who are oriented towards preserving their environment.  They look after one another and cherish the world they live in.

My son, a seasoned mountaineer in the State of WA recently suggested that I read The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a sociologist.  In Chapter One Gladwell describes a community that has similar attributes to Bayfield WI.  Researchers found that residents in the community that he described showed significantly less evidence of the major medical ailments that are so well-known to us in the USA, heart disease and cancer.

One of the aspects of the villagers Gladwell writes about was that they all stopped to say hello to one another during the day.    They supported each other during crises.  Gladwell’s research showed there was a sense of oneness in the village as villagers’ lives unfolded, for good and for bad.  I have found the British ‘Doc Martin’ series to be similar to what Gladwell described.  It is about small town life in the North of England.  I find it heart-warming and inspirational as well as humorous.

How do humans meet challenges such as those I have just described?  They do so by hard work,  determination, cooperation, environmental management and problem-solving.

It is highly likely that John and Greta’s children will carry this love and commitment to the Northern outdoors through a third generation.  Why wouldn’t they?

Sally Kilbourne


Running Marathons

 Why do men, women and children run marathons?  Why do we push ourselves to our limits and beyond?  At the Long Beach Marathon held on October 13, 2013, we had over 25,000 participants and over 100,000 spectators.  The sky was blue, the temperature in the 60s.  There was a chill in the air as the early starters took off a few minutes before 6:00 a.m.

The night before, the traffic on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Long Beach was at a peak until midnight.   Motorbikes roared back and forth right outside my windows where I overlook Ocean Boulevard from the 12th Floor of Aqua Towers.    Out-of-towners who had driven long distances to be spectators arrived until the early hours of the morning.  The long red fire truck, a well-known figure, was heard and seen several times.  The City of Long Beach had its best gown on, creating a continuous impression of hospitality.

Women, men, children, the disabled, cyclists set out on a 26.1 mile, 13.2 mile or shorter journeys.  They form a community of energy, not knowing what the outcome is going to be but all being in it together.

Training for many takes place over a period of months, usually governed by a schedule and, perhaps, a coach. The word rigorous comes to mind.  Merriam Webster defines rigorous as:

  • very strict and demanding
  • difficult to endure because of extreme conditions

Are the runners running to beat others or to beat themselves?  Are they running for themselves or for someone else?

“I’ve run many great races in my life.   Now, I run races for many great lives.”  Writes Shawn Veronese on her website:  http://www.marathonsformom.com/, a fund-raising site for moms with cancer.   Shawn’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“Running has navigated me through low and high moments in life.  It has provided balance and well-being but mostly has been instrumental to my daily connection of living life.”

Meandering around the race course on foot, contemplating, enjoying the outdoors, laughing, and meeting others through a sport that is rich in tradition,  provides so many life changing benefits for those who participate.  Many report that they have been transported  ‘into  the zone’

She quotes Benjamin Cheever, author and Runner’s World contributor in his memoir Strides:

“At first an ordeal and then an accomplishment, the daily run becomes a staple, like bread, or wine…or air. It is also a free pass to friendship.”

The spirit of competition can come from many sources.  It can be genetic, familial or both.  It can also stem from what we experienced at school, from parents, inspiring teachers, coaches or friends.  It can be internal drivers that demand a response.

What about the outcome?  Do we become elated?  Do we suffer disappointment?  Does it inspire us to train harder or become discouraged?  The feelings of those who have run are along a broad continuum.  A tall, lanky woman in a bright red outfit and a spirited smile on her mouth said, “She would run the race, there was never any question in her mind.  The satisfaction experienced by part of something much larger than yourself can motivate you towards further marathons.

Where do people who run marathons develop the desire to participate in something so demanding that has an uncertain outcome but requires an enormous amount of energy and endurance?

As someone who has excelled throughout life, taken risks that would make others blanche, I have reached goals and had adventures that to this day make me feel great.

In my family, my father encouraged us to reach for new heights from an early age.  At the age of four, he had me and my siblings skiing down baby slopes in the woods nearby our home in Chicago.  I remember so well my blue wool coat, a ski hat with Norwegian design, boots that had been handed down from older siblings.

At the age of seven, we were racing in prams (small sailing craft) with our peers on a large Midwestern lake, up to 237 feet deep.  At age ten, we were water-skiing behind a power boat. When I was sixteen, I skied on my boyfriend’s shoulders, as he skied on one water-ski and jumped the wake.   I was thrilled to jump over a large wooden jump, with a 6-foot drop at the steep end. The impact, as you hit the water at a high speed, was such that the tow-rope was almost torn out from your hands.

I have no idea how I developed the courage to go over a water-ski jump six feet off the water.  What I do recall, along with the exhilaration and fear, was a level of determination to keep trying if I fell.  I have no idea how I developed the courage to go over a water-ski jump six feet off the water at the age of 15.  What I do recall, along with the exhilaration and fear, was a level of determination to keep trying if I fell.

That spirit of excitement and challenge is embedded in us as we grow.  It needs to be nurtured and affirmed.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to have come from a background in which the message was affirmed, are those who sign up and train for marathons.

Developing the self-discipline to set goals and follow a training schedule is fundamental to competing.  By creating a structure, we give ourselves an aid from which to measure ourselves.  We can track our progress and feel a sense of self-satisfaction as we increase our stamina.  We build confidence and our motivation increases as we experience a higher level of skill and stamina. Hopefully, we transfer these skills to other parts of our lives as well.

As we grow and develop, the challenges we experience become greater.  Gaining confidence as a child goes a long way towards helping us take on larger challenges as we reach our teens.  It provides the foundation from which to launch ourselves as adults.

As we encounter stumbling blocks, previous experience in problem-solving assists us to carry on in our determination to reach our goal.

We had a rich circle of friends who developed the skills together over the course of several summers.  It was enormous fun.  The thrill of being in flight kept us going back for more.

We are still friends to this day.

The challenges we take on in sports events and recreational activities form a foundation for having the courage to face problems in our day-to-day lives.  Rather than abandon a situation, we may step back temporarily but then renew our efforts to resolve the issue.

The encouragement and coaching we receive from those who care about us can inspire us to renew our efforts.

Whether it is running marathons, schussing down frozen ski slopes or racing a sailboat in high winds, the sense of enjoyment and camaraderie spurs us on to greater challenges.

That’s what life is all about.




What do you do when your day doesn’t turn out as you had planned?  At the first stop sign you may say, ‘Oh, no problem, I can deal with this change.’  Then the next bump comes along.  Again you say, ‘I can handle this, I’m not going to let it get on top of me.’  Although you find that you are a little less certain that is true.

Then a major blockage presents itself.  By this time, your sense of good will has dissipated.  You find yourself irritable.  The irritability turns into anger.  Your level of frustration mounts.  The world is against you.

What are your options?

  • Lash out at the first person who comes along
  • Head for the nearest Starbucks and order a Latte Grande
  • Burst into tears
  • Call a friend
  • Present a ‘stiff upper lip’ and move on

Maintaining a calm facade as the day throws us its inevitable challenges is a goal most of us would like to reach.  What can we do to increase the likelihood of being successful in this?



Resources Entertainment

Frustration and Assertiveness – Where do they meet?

  • How many of you have had a frustrating experience this week?
  • How many of you have experienced an intense level of frustration something in the last year?
  • How many of you ‘Just Got On With It’?
  • How many of you were able to decrease the level of frustration through problem-solving?

In psychology, frustration is defined as a common emotional response to opposition. Related to anger and disappointment, it arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfillment of individual will. The greater the obstruction, and the greater the will, the more the frustration is likely to be. Causes of frustration may be internal or external. In people, internal frustration may arise from challenges in fulfilling personal goals and desires, instinctual drives and needs, or dealing with perceived deficiencies, such as a lack of confidence or fear of social situations. Conflict can also be an internal source of frustration; when one has competing goals that interfere with one another.

When does frustration result in a dead end? When does frustration lead to responses that you would prefer not to have? When does frustration lead you to problem-solving and, thus, lower the level of frustration?
Internal frustration may arise from challenges in fulfilling personal goals and desires, instinctual drives and needs, or dealing with perceived deficiencies, such as a lack of confidence or fear of social situations. Conflict can also be an internal source of frustration; when one has competing goals that interfere with one another.

A sailing buddy of mine spent the first 12 years of his early years in the Marine Corps as a Sapper. Sappers are trained to handle demolitions and explosive devices, according to Sgt Shaun Anderson, Chief Instructor of the Sapper School in San Diego.

Merlyn shared with me recently that he had been disappointed with the progression of his marine career. He said the reason he joined the Marines His goal was to blow things up, as he demonstrated to me with his sound effects and arms waving in the air.

As such, he went through the Sapper School.”Sapper school’s purpose is to push the junior combat engineer Marines through the course to understand the concepts of demolition handling and dealing with improvised explosive devices,” said Staff Sgt. Shaun A. Anderson, chief instructor of Sapper school.

He then said, ‘I was promoted and ended up behind a desk, not what I had signed up for so I left the Marine Corps. He had felt an increasing sense of frustration. What did he do? Remain in the Marines and put his own needs on hold?

No, he demonstrated assertiveness. He resigned from the Service and went into banking. As an Investment Advisor, he now deals with other kinds of explosions, those in the Stock Market and other investment choices, the economy and dealing with the life changes his customers experience. He has a high risk profile and, as such, this setting is a good fit. Despite the frustrations in the job, he has developed ways in which his underlying needs for adventure are met.

How does he get his needs for adventure to be met? We race together on a 38 foot CNC. This weekend we raced 35 miles Sat and Sun and won 2 first prizes. We hoot and hollered as we walked forward to accept the trophy we had won.

Amy Gallo Contributing editor at HBR, writes about, How to be assertive without losing yourself. (HBR Amy Gallo 8;21;12)

Managers need some degree of self-confidence to be effective. “The right amount of assertiveness, respect for others, and intelligence is what makes a great leader,” says Lauren Zander, , an executive coaching firm in New York City, and author of “Designing Your Life,” a course taught through MIT. Yet, there needs to be a balance. “There’s a sweet spot for assertiveness. If you’re below the range, you’re not going to get your way. If you’re above it, you’re not getting along with others,” says Daniel Ames, a professor of management at Columbia Business School and author of “Pushing Up to a Point: Assertiveness and Effectiveness in Leadership and Interpersonal Dynamics.” The good news is, “Being shy is not a permanent condition. Assertiveness can be learned,” says Zander. The key is to understand the context, assess your behavior, and then make the appropriate adjustments.

Understand the context
Assertiveness is not universally understood to be a positive trait. Before you make changes to your behavior, know the context you are working in. Does the culture — national, regional, or organizational — truly value forcefulness? Or do you work in a situation where a persuasive, quiet approach is sometimes more esteemed.
Zander suggests you ask yourself: “Are you willing to talk to anyone about what you want?” Most people will answer this question with some qualifications, which indicates the need to overcome fear and express your opinion more often. Ames suggests you complete “a success inventory” to understand whether your style is effective. Over a defined period of time — a few weeks or a month — before entering a discussion or meeting, ask yourself, “What do I want from this situation?” Then, afterwards, evaluate the results: “Did I get what I wanted?” This will create a track record of your success and indicate whether you need to adjust your style.
Objectively rating your own behavior can be difficult. “The connection between what we think we’re doing and what others see is very weak. Often it’s not greater than chance,” says Ames. Therefore, it might help to get feedback from trusted colleagues or to conduct a 360-degree review.

Set goals and stick to them
If you find in your assessment that you are holding back in situations where you shouldn’t, ask yourself what you aren’t saying and why you’re keeping quiet. Next time you enter a similar situation, rehearse what you are going to say and how you will say it beforehand. Ames and Zander both suggest you challenge yourself with a specific time-bounded behavioral goal. For example, give yourself a week to initiate three difficult conversations with colleagues. Or tell yourself that for the next two weeks, whenever you’re in a group discussion, you’ll speak up within the first two minutes. “Focused incremental changes add up to real change,” Ames says. If you’re successful, set another goal and stick to it. If it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up. Try a different one. “Approach it with an attitude of playfulness,” he says.

Build relationships
Often times people hold back because they are uncomfortable in a situation, either because they don’t know people or they’re afraid of what others might think. “My experience with reserved, shy people is that the relational context matters to them,” says Ames. Therefore, it can help to get to know people outside of work. “Connect with work colleagues who are only casual acquaintances. Socialize with colleagues in a way that breaks down barriers,” Ames recommends. You may be less cautious about speaking up if you’re at ease socially.

Stay true to yourself
Altering your style to be more assertive can feel inauthentic, but it doesn’t have to be. You’re not changing your character; you are making deliberate choices about how you behave. “Don’t feel you have to muster interpersonal coldness to accompany your assertion. Feel free to be friendly and empathic while asking for your needs to be met,” says Ames. Find your own style instead of trying to imitate others. This is especially true for women. “Women need to be aware that becoming more like men is not sustainable,” says Cox. Nor do you need to be more assertive in every context every day. “You can bring out your competitive side when it’s useful and you can dial back and be accommodating when it’s helpful,” says Ames.

There’s a line — know when you’ve crossed it
Be careful that in your quest, you don’t become a bully or a nuisance. Zander warns that being overly assertive is often interpreted as self-promotional or arrogant. Monitor the impact you have on others. “The costs of being overly assertive are not immediately apparent to us. If you yell at a subordinate, she may do what you asked but she may also go home and update her resume,” says Ames. Be sure your efforts to push more are well intended. “Assertiveness is most appreciated when it’s in the service of the team,” says Zander.

Principles to Remember
Assess your own degree of assertiveness and ask others for feedback
Set realistic goals to make small changes in your behavior.
Forge relationships with colleagues outside of work so that you feel more comfortable speaking up.
Assume that assertiveness is always a good thing — the context you work in and your gender both matter
Try to imitate someone else’s behavior — you can change while still being true to who you are
Overcompensate and become aggressive — balance assertiveness with consideration of others

Case Study #1: Make promises and keep them
Katie Torpey is a filmmaker and screenwriter. Assertive executives and insistent dealmakers dominate the industry she works in. Katie was successful, making several movies and television episodes, but she often held back in meetings, rarely saying what was on her mind. Instead she said what she thought others wanted to hear. “I was a people pleaser. I didn’t want to piss anyone off or hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says.
When Katie pitched work to producers they often lowballed her. “I was getting work, but I was not getting what I was worth.” She blames no one but herself. “I would take what they offered because I was afraid to demand my asking price,” she says. She was worried the project would fall through or they’d find another director. It became clear to Katie that this was hindering her career.
To change, she made a promise to herself: if she left a situation without saying what she really wanted, she would have to remedy it within 24 hours. For example, when she walked away from a meeting without telling her boss that a product wasn’t actually ready, she forced herself to contact him within 24 hours to fess up. This practice paid off. After cleaning up several of her messes, she realized it was much easier to be assertive from the outset. “Living a life where you speak what you think and feel is so much more freeing than holding everything in,” she says.
This has changed her career for the better. “People respect me. I still have the same abilities but I now have more confidence. People know that I won’t take a job unless my heart’s in it and I’m paid well,” she says. And if producers ask her to take a lower price, she stands up for herself, saying, “I will do an excellent job for you, but you have to pay me my asking price.”

Case Study #2: Put yourself out there
Jigar Parikh was working as an attorney at a New York law firm, and hated his job so he hired a personal coach to help him find a new profession. He soon, however, realized that the problem wasn’t his field; it was his firm. His coach encouraged him to build his network and secure enough clients to quit his job and start his own law practice. But Jigar was shy and uncomfortable reaching out to people he didn’t know. “I was someone who really held back,” he says.

So Jigar started small. He made a commitment to talk about his budding law practice with one or two people each day. This proved to be harder than he thought. “I didn’t want my current employer to find out, so I had to be especially careful,” he says. And he struggled at the networking events he attended three or four times a week. But he didn’t want to fall down on his pledge so he soon found himself talking to strangers on the subway or in a restaurant. “I once talked to a doctor who was an entrepreneur himself and he gave me some great advice,” he says. “I had some amazing conversations.”
This all gave him the confidence he needed to leave the firm. “When you’re not assertive, you settle for things and I had a high tolerance for being in places where I was unhappy,” he says. Now he feels like a very different person. “Anyone who knows me now is shocked to find out that I was shy. But it’s not always easy. I still have to remind myself to get out there,” he says.

Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review. Follow her on Twitter at @amyegallo.